COMMENTARY | In this current Golden Age of San Francisco Giants baseball, the team has relied on the strength of its pitching staff.
Homegrown talents like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson, and Sergio Romo have carved out a consistent identity for this team as one of the best pitching staffs in the game for the past four seasons. In 2013, however, the staff is faltering in painfully obvious ways. They'll have to patch up numerous leaks if they want to keep the ship afloat.
It's odd to say this, but despite winning two of the past three World Series, the Giants have still not put it all together to form a truly dominant team. Each year, Giants fans see their pitchers perform at historic levels, but the offense has struggled to keep up. And when it has, it always seems to correspond with a dip in pitching performance, as if the two sides are playing on a see-saw.
In 2009, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter (the franchise's first since 1976), Randy Johnson won his 300th game, and Tim Lincecum started the All-Star game and wrapped up his second consecutive Cy Young Award. But Bengie Molina was the clean-up hitter, anchoring an offense that was truly offensive.
In 2010, the Giants had a streak of 18 games in which they allowed no more than three runs, the longest such streak baseball has seen since 1920. That helped the staff record a 1.78 ERA in September. The bullpen, in particular, was ridiculous -- over the final month of the regular season plus the playoffs, the bullpen had an ERA of 0.90. That year's postseason finally answered the question, "What would happen if this staff was supported by even just an average offense?" (They would win the World Series).
The 2011 season saw more of the same, as four Giants pitchers were named to the All-Star team (Lincecum, Cain, Wilson, and Ryan Vogelsong). Over one 14-game stretch, Romo retired 30 straight hitters, becoming the fifth reliever since 1919 to throw a "perfect game." But Buster Posey missed most of the year, there were numerous other injuries, and, in the later months, it quickly unraveled into a lost season for the Giants.
Finally, in 2012, the offense turned into something resembling a strength. The contributions from Melky Cabrera, Marco Scutaro, and, of course, Posey made the Giants one of the better offenses in the league. Matt Cain pitched a perfect game and started the All-Star game. And at one point, the staff hurled four consecutive shutouts. Of course, this all corresponded with Lincecum turning into a pitcher who would barely get innings for a Little League All-Star B-Team. And the rotation limped into the playoffs, riding Barry Zito as their most reliable piece down the stretch (never a good sign). But they flipped the switch just in time, and dominated the final seven games of the playoffs. (They would, again, win the World Series).
And now here in 2013, one quarter through the season, and the Giants have scored the third most runs in the National League. They have the highest adjusted OPS. If the pitching was where it was expected to be, Major League Baseball probably would have kicked the Giants out of the league for being too good. They would be sitting atop the standings of MLB Premium, waiting for a team to join them and provide competition.
Instead, the rotation has an ERA of 4.78. Once again, when you're relying on Barry Zito to be one of your stoppers, it's not an ideal situation. The Old Tim Lincecum went out for a pack of cigarettes and at this point, it's probably safe to assume he's not coming back. The New Tim Lincecum, who we should just start calling Tim Lincecum, can make incremental improvements, but that's about it. Matt Cain is giving up home runs at higher rate than the guy on the street promoting a free comedy show gives out flyers.
And Vogelsong. His carriage has officially turned back into a pumpkin. Coming into his start on May 20, he had accumulated all of one quality start. He was having his best outing of the season, but then decided he had discovered a new sweet spot in his bat -- right where he grips it with his right hand. He tried to hit the ball with this part of the bat and yada, yada, yada, we'll see him in four to six weeks.
The offense has picked up the rotation thus far. Even though the Giants are falling behind in games, they have 12 comeback wins. But that's not a formula for sustained success. In fact, it makes me yearn for the tortuous formula of the past. Or better yet, if the pitching would go ahead and put together some historic numbers, as they seem to do every year, things would be peachy. Success is a lot like alcohol: once you get a taste, you tend to want more.
Giants fans don't have a lot to complain about these days, but it would be nice to see what this team could do when clicking on all cylinders.
Michael Meade lives in San Francisco, and has followed the Giants for 20+ years. He's contributed pieces on the Giants to various sports blogs.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @mmeade06.
- Sports & Recreation
- San Francisco Giants
- Tim Lincecum
- Matt Cain
- Jonathan Sanchez